Original Title: Burma, Penang, and China in the 1920s : four photograph albums, 1920, Penang, Malaysia, George West Philleo

This image is entitled Burma, Penang in the 1920: four photograph albums. This then gives the photograph two possible origins. The origins are Burma also known as Myanmar or Penang, Malaysia. It is hard to place exactly which location this photograph was taken. However, through further research, it can be concluded that this photograph was taken in Penang. This conclusion was made based on the clothing in the photograph. The Pew Research Center has a religious diversity index table that shows the percentage of religions in countries. When looking at the majority religion in Burma, the majority religion is Buddhist, 80.1%. The majority religion in Malaysia is Muslim, 63.7%. The clothes in the photograph point to the photo being a Muslim-based country. This means that this photo could have been taken in Penang. 

This image was taken during the 1920s in Penang. During this time, Malaysia was under British rule. Malaysia was colonized by the British in 1826 and then gained independence in 1957. However, this is not the first time Malaysia has been under foreign powers. Throughout history, Malaysia has been ruled by outside powers. The Malacca sultanate was in power from 1400 to 1511 when Malacca was invaded by the Portuguese. After Portuguese rule, the Dutch took over in 1641 (Week 7 Lecture). The British then took over Penang in 1786, then took over Singapore in 1819, and then Malacca in 1824. The British ultimately took over Malaysia in 1826. While the British were present, Myanmar was called Burma. During the 1920s, Malaysia saw large amounts of migrants which created the diversity that Malaysia sees today (Drabble). Malaysia saw an economic boom in the 1920’s. Penang, Singapore, and Malacca became popular commercial centers and gave Europe easy access to Malayan tin and rubber (Hays). Penang and the other cities became major cities and also played a major role in local trade. 

This photograph seems to be taken in a small village, which could be a village outside the main city. In the photo, there is a group of men dressed in traditional clothing carrying rods. As stated before, the traditional clothing may be Muslim based. This is mainly due to the head accessory and the style of their clothes. The influence of Western culture can be seen in the men that are wearing Western style vests with their traditional clothing. One man is also wearing a suit jacket, which could be another indication of Western influence. In the photo, it looks like the men are having some kind of ceremony or ritual. The men are holding metal or wooden rods in the air. It is uncertain what this ritual is for, but it is probably for religious reasons. 

The image is based in Penang. This city is very busy because it is a major trade center. The image was taken in a village outside of the busy city. If the location of the photo were to be compared then to now, homes would probably be in place of the men. The surrounding men look like they are in a village. The village could easily have become a neighborhood outside the city. Perhaps the village still attracts people who are Muslim since Muslims were living there in the 1920s. This image could look completely different today if the village was close enough to the city. The village could be under skyscrapers. 

The photographer of this photo and album is George West Philleo. The origin of the name Philleo is British and Irish descent, which probably means that Philleo is British. Philleo probably went to Penang for vacation. In this album, Philleo took pictures of people, nature, architecture, and lifestyle. It seems that Philleo wanted to learn and document the culture of Penang. Other pictures in the album show the labor class of Penang. The people living in Penang seem hard at work while the tourists are documenting them. Overall, Philleo probably wanted to capture this image to show the people, religion, and customs. The photo for the local people could have a different meaning from Philleo’s interpretation. For the locals, this photo could emphasize how important religion is to them. The photo could also emphasize how important rituals are to the community. 

This image gives insight into how Penang was in the 1920’s. The people, clothes, objects, and buildings in the background all make up the importance of the picture. All of these elements are important in telling the story of the image. Knowing that this picture was taken in the 1920’s tells us that this picture was taken when Penang was under British rule. Philleo has captured this in his photo, and the photo depicts the people of Penang’s religion and culture. Analyzing this photo was difficult. Finding the location was the hardest part. Overall, this project was enjoyable; and I was able to learn more about Penang’s religion and history.

Shared By: Bellina Kakkar
Source: Author, No. “Table: Religious Diversity Index Scores by Country.” Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project, Pew Research Center, 10 June 2022, https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2014/04/04/religious-diversity-index-scores-by-country/. “Burma, Penang, and China in the 1920s : Four Photograph Albums.” Burma, Penang, and China in the 1920s : Four Photograph Albums - Early Photography of Asia, https://cudl.colorado.edu/luna/servlet/detail/CUB~34~34~156~1227817:Burma-Penang-and-China-in-the-192sorttitle2Cdate_created2Cidentifier?qvq=w4swherePulauPinang2528Malaysia252CAsia25292528state2529sorttitledate_createdidentifierlcCUB~34~34&mi=2&trs=5. Photo 23. Collins, Lauren. “Imagining the Nation.” Canvas, Week 7 Lecture Drabble, John H. “Economic History of Malaysia.” EHnet, https://eh.net/?s=theeconomichistoryofmalaysia. Hays, Jeffrey. “British in Malaysia.” Facts and Details, https://factsanddetails.com/southeast-asia/Malaysia/sub5_4a/entry-3619.html.
Image Alt Text: Penang Men Performing a Ritual

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